My first impressions
I got off the plane in Paris on August 6th after not having slept for about 30 hours, so my memory is a little hazy. I was met by our coordinator and a teammate/his wife and we made the two hour trek northeast towards my new home, Tourcoing (on the Belgian border). We immediately went to the gym and met the coach and the president of the club. I was given a brief tour of the gym and the downtown core (“Centre-ville”), then led to my apartment. My first thoughts were “Wow, this town looks even more French than I could have imagined,” and “Wow, I need to learn French.”
I put my stuff in my room and proceeded to take one of those naps that you wake up from, confused as to what room/country/decade it is. I woke up at 9 pm, and went to go find food. I thought it must have been a stat holiday, because there was nothing open. It was a Monday to be fair, but other than the Subway I found, the place was a ghost town. The first night in this new home was an overwhelming rush of excitement, adrenaline, restlessness, and crushing loneliness.
However I spend the next few days cleaning and setting up the place, meeting my teammates, running errands, and just trying to keep myself busy. I arrived on a Monday and we didn’t have our first practice until the following Monday (save for a few team meetings, a dentist appointment, etc.) so I had a lot of free time to conquer my jet lag.
I went in having done as little research as I could about this place, as I wanted to have no preconceptions. This made it all the more fun to explore for me and my buddy Mart, the only other non-French speaker on the team who I spent the first few days hanging out with. Tourcoing is a fairly old, sleepy town tucked away in the furthest corner from France, and despite its beauty, it doesn’t have a lot going on. If its action you want you need to go to Lille as there is nothing open past 10 here, even on weekends
I live about 100 m away from a Metro station, and with only 1.50 euros, you can take a 25 minute ride to arrive in France’s 4th largest city. Lille has a lot of history to it and a lot of really nice old buildings. Mart and I got lost and spent 4 hours walking through this bustling metropolis, enjoying every minute of it. I have gone back every weekend that I’ve been here, and have enjoyed it immensely. I am going back this weekend, as Lille is host to the biggest festival in all of France this weekend. The “Braderie de Lille” draws 2-3 million people, who pack the streets for what is the biggest flea market in Europe, and has happened every year since 1127.
The people here are very interesting. The town seems to really support the club, as I will get asked something along the lines of “When is the first match?” every day. However the biggest problem I have encountered so far is the languagebarrier, as French people typically do not speak English as much as those in other European countriesmight. I would estimate that 1/10 people that I would encounter on the street speak very broken English, which has forced me to work ce with no help. Either way, the people I have met have been beyond friendly. I am met with smiling faces every morning from strangers on the street or in a store, and if my bilingual Canadian friend Chris is with me, people are always eager to strike up a conversation with us. I have really been impressed with the friendliness of the people and am motivated to improve my French so I can interact with the people more easily.
My apartment is infinitely nicer than I thought it would be. Having 2 bedrooms with an open living room/kitchen area overlooking one of the town squares, or the “grand place” is surreal. I welcome any visitors, and can comfortably host 3-4 visitors, maybe more. The team truly outdid themselves, giving me a new bed, couch, TV, fridge, kitchen appliances, and more. I’m glad it feels like home already, because until my friend/teammate Chris arrived last week I would leave practice and usually not speak to another human until the next practice.
As many of you know, things tend to take longer in Europe. Its 3.5 weeks in, and I’ve just received internet/TV in my apartment yesterday, and gotten my phone working this week. This is why your social media outlets have been so quiet; its not because I actually grew up. Between getting this set up, getting a bank account, getting certain amenities for my apartment, and taking care of the league/governmental requirements for me being here, I’ve been very busy.
The volleyball has been very interesting so far! This club was in the top league in France but last year they finished last and were thus relegated. They seem to have cleaned house, including a brand new coaching staff. I don’t know what I expected, but I have been very impressed with the quality and the infrastructure of this club. They are very organized and very well structured, and everything is extremely professional so far. With 2 coaches, a strength trainer, 2 coordinators to help us with anything/everything, a physiotherapist, and any dental/doctoral needs we may have available at the tip of a hat, I have no complaints.
The team is awesome. About 90% of the guys speak English, and they’re quality guys. The coach speaks English but seeing as only 2 guys don’t speak French, everything is explained in French and if I don’t understand something I usually just ask one of the guys to explain it. It gets a little bit awkward if the coach is upset and goes on a tirade about something…nobody wants to be the translator then. There is a great variance in age/culture, but this provides for a good dynamic. This particular league only requires that half of our roster be from France, so we have 2 Brazilians, 2 Serbs, 2 Canadians, 1 Portuguese, and a Dutchman. We have been training with a few members of our junior club as well, which brings the age difference from 16-37. All things considered, everyone gets along well (so far) and it seems to be a really good crew.
Training camp was tough but a great experience. Our first two weeks entailed mostly skill work at one practice, with cardio and weights occurring once a day. The cardio portion was a run through the streets of Tourcoing, starting at 20 minutes and adding minutes every time. The first day I was sure I was going to die, but I ended up completing the final run of 60 minutes last Friday without dying. Our team is fiercely competitive and very focused on winning the league this year, and it shows with every practice.
The next few weeks?
Now that I feel fully settled in, I guess there isn’t much to do outside of volleyball but enjoy the fine cheeses, wine, and baguettes that this part of the world is so famous for. A typical day right now has me waking up at 8, practicing from 9:30-12:00, and taking the afternoon to recover/nap/eat. Evening practices are 5-7:30, and by the time I shower, get groceries, and eat, its about time to pass out. Therefore the weekends are where the action happens.
As I said, there is a big festival in Lille and there will be many more to look forward to I’m sure. But what I’m truly excited for is the visitors. I’m beyond lucky to have my sister and her husband a mere 5 hour drive away in Germany, and I rented a car last weekend to go visit them for a huge festival in their small town. Dayna is coming over here for a few days next week, and I’m planning to spend my Christmas break with them. My family back home is planning to visit with their significant others periodically over the next 9 months, and a few friends are hoping to come as well. My friend from TWU is playing field hockey an hour away in Belgium this year, so I’m sure I’ll meet up with him at some point, and I have a few other friends scattered across Europe. Not to mention there is a plethora of Canadians playing in France this year, some of whom I will likely play in our France Cup games!
Exhibition games start next week Friday and we have quite a few of them before regular season starts October 6th. I’m beyond excited for games to start, and a busy preseason is nothing compared to what Ben Josephson used to put togetherJ Other than that, I believe I’ve informed you of everything!!
Well that’s the first month in a nutshell. I have a feeling this is going to be a really huge year for me; in terms of volleyball, life decisions, relationships, and most importantly my personal growth. I believe that my highest highs will come, but I also know that my lowest lows will come as well. I welcome the victories, and embrace the defeats as well. I am lucky to be here, and I am eager to see what this year entails!
Thanks for reading!!